Since I left San Diego 18 years ago--first for San Francisco, then for New York City--bashing the food in my hometown has become a favorite pastime of mine. My family still lives there, but I all but quit going to restaurants on my visits home in the mid-1990s after I was served an entrée with a number of inedible objects poking out of architecturally-stacked ingredients on a plate with a sauce-dotted rim. The idea of buying fresh seasonal ingredients and leaving them alone seemed to have gotten caught in traffic on its way down from Los Angeles.
When I did go out to eat in San Diego, I went to the same places over and over again, like Point Loma Seafoods, a restaurant and takeout shop on the docks of the city's biggest sailing community. Point Loma Seafoods is one of those places where people are willing to wait in line just to park, then take a number and stand in another line to order. Everything they make is delicious. The fried fish and chips are crispy and not too greasy. But I usually got either a crab or smoked yellowfin tuna sandwich--lumps of fish spread between sliced sourdough moistened with just a little tartar sauce--and ordered seviche and more smoked fish to take with me. Sitting outside with my lunch on a plastic tray, I looked out at a mass of sailboat masts and, behind them, the downtown skyline, which seemed to change and expand with every visit.
And I never left town without having my stepdad take me to The Waterfront for a juicy half-pound burger served with a tray of condiments, from sweet pickle relish to jalapeños. Founded in the 1920s, The Waterfront is the oldest bar in San Diego. Photographs plastered along its walls--including a few of my stepdad, a former state senator, on the campaign trail with John F. Kennedy--chronicle the city's history. And regulars at The Waterfront--politicians, businessmen, fishermen, marines and construction workers--reflect the diversity of the city.